Guest Commentary

From the archives: Kansas City black historian Joelouis Mattox on overcoming racism

Joelouis Mattox talked in 2016 about Wayne Miner at the American Legion post named in honor of the World War I soldier who died on the last day of the war.
Joelouis Mattox talked in 2016 about Wayne Miner at the American Legion post named in honor of the World War I soldier who died on the last day of the war. kmyers@kcstar.com

This guest column by Joelouis Mattox, who died this week, originally ran on March 30, 2015.

March is National Woman’s History Month. I dedicate this article to Lucile H. Bluford, late of Kansas City. Bluford encountered state-sponsored racism when she was denied admission to the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1939. She overcame the denial and today is known as an early fighter for civil rights and a distinguished newspaper editor. The Bluford Branch of the Kansas City Public Library is named for her.

I am a dark-skinned man, in my 70s, who grew up in cotton-picking country during the 1940s and 1950s. I know much about racism and racists.

My grandmother, late of Mississippi, and my elders, late of southeast Missouri, told me stories about slavery and instructed me to obey Jim Crow laws and why I should do so.

I remember the times when African Americans were not permitted to walk through the front doors of white establishments, such as hotels, movie theaters and restaurants. More importantly, in many states, blacks were kept from voting by illegal voter registration laws.

How does one overcome racism and gain the respect of racists? My high school teachers, at a segregated school, advised me to become somebody in the line of great black men. Such heroes as the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, World War I and World War II, the founders of Lincoln University-Jefferson City, George Washington Carver and my namesake, Joe Louis.

Since the historic march in Selma, Ala., 50 years ago, have African Americans overcome the legacies of Jim Crow and reached the Promised Land that Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of? The answer is about half the population of black America has made it over.

However, racism, as seen in recent incidents of police brutality, racial profiling and voter suppression, is much the same on each “side of the mountain.”

The NAACP has a branch in Kansas City and two branches in Johnson County, a land of white progressives. Across the country, the fathers and grandfathers of outstanding black athletes face racial profiling, joblessness and are treated with little respect by white community leaders. The men often claim racism is the blame.

How do you overcome racism? Buy from black-owned businesses. Join and donate time and money to black institutions and organizations. Vote for and support like-minded people who stand up and fight for equality, fairness, justice, righteousness and human rights. Keep your cool when you meet racists at ball games, in hospitals, in law enforcement, in stores and in the workplace.

Keep a level head when you hear racists on the radio and television. Just as important, if you’re African American, become a banker, doctor, educator, entrepreneur, lawmaker, writer or a community organizer. These professions can help black communities overcome racism.

Racial equality is not where it should be in Kansas City, but it is much improved from the 1960s when Troost Avenue divided the city into “The Black Side” and “The White Side.”

I have traveled in Africa and Europe. Racism is worldwide. But racism in the United States of America conflicts with our country’s lofty ideals and values. It stains our nation’s image around the world and diminishes the United States as the greatest place on earth to live.

For these reasons, black and white people must work together tirelessly to make this nation “The Home of the Brave and Land of the Free” for all classes, races and religions.

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